Dec 2015

Recing the mud (aka Viking) way

Once term ended for Christmas I set off to recce the final ~65 miles of the Viking Way from Lincoln to Oakham. Partly to learn the route and save time navigating on the day, and partly to see exactly what I was getting myself into. I learnt 2 things:

1) The training doesn’t work if you don’t do it

I deliberately do much running during the Autumn, to let the car-seat induced hip niggle I’d been nursing all Summer heal. The plan was cycling (indoors on my turbo trainer) with the occasional weekend foray into the Peak District for mini mountain marathons would keep me fit-ish and then I’d start ramping the running back up in December. Come the end of November my legs were feeling fine and I was looking forwards to getting back running properly. However the aftermath of the wonky-finger incident led to the hip niggle flaring up again, and I was back where I was at the beginning of the Autumn. But minus any fitness.

The plan from the outset was to walk the whole way over 2 days, carrying sleeping kit. The first 10 miles, where the route meandered along the sides of fields through various villages, were OK. But then everything started hurting (back, legs, feet, the lot...) and didn’t stop.


2) It should really be called the Mud Way rather than the Viking Way

I’d read various blogs which mentioned the mud. However I’d convinced myself that this was Southerners moaning about a couple of inches of mud. And then I hit mile after mile of the 2nd worst mud I’ve ever come across. The worst mud I’ve ever experienced is the infamous ‘Mud road’, just South of Bellingham on the Pennine Way. But that at least is fairly short, and due to forestry vehicles working. This went on for miles and is caused by wankers in four by fours deliberately destroying the countryside for fun (‘greenlaning’ my arse). Having grown up on a farm, I just can’t get my head around the concept of Landrovers as a toy rather than a tool.

If it wasn’t just that the mud was deep, but that the vehicles had carved deep ruts in it. So you have the choice between paddling through deep, uneven puddles you can’t see the bottom of, or tottering along on the muddy ridges between them. At one point the track crossed a river. I didn’t fancy either wading through the puddles or balancing on a ridge with a 2 metre drop to one side. So I ended up scrambling down the bank and paddling through the river instead!

All in all this was a bit of a rude awakening. Maybe the ground will dry up a bit before April, but there are huge stretches of the route that are never going to be smooth and easily runnable. And even if my legs are feeling relatively good at this point I’m going to struggle to move at any more than 3mph.


Mini mountain marathons: things went wonky

My plans for Autumn were initially the same as last year: try and keep the training up, with one eye on having a go at my 100 mile and 24 hour PBs at the Barcelona 24 hour track race in December (and half an eye on seeing whether Autumn training for the Across the Years 6 day race in future would be viable). By mid-October term time was kicking my arse even more than usual and it was clear that my legs (and in particular the car seat induced niggle) could do with a rest. I couldn’t even summon the energy to do the Round Rotherham 50. So I came up with an alternative plan: switch to cycling (indoors on the turbo) for training and enter every mini mountain marathon in sight (the series of 4 Peak Raid 3 events and the final Rab MMM in the Peak District) to get me out of the house at weekends.

I’ve done a handful of mini mountain marathons over the past 2 years. They’re way too short, and the terrain’s far too gnarly, for me to do well at them. But I’ve done OK (as in mid-field overall) at the RAB ones, where it’s possible to navigate mostly using paths and trails. The Peak Raid 3 series on the hand need proper ‘off-piste’ navigation, and at my one attempt last year I finished almost last (thanks to choosing a route which maximised the amount of time I spent on the Pennine Way). So my goal was to be a bit a braver with my route choice.

Peak Raid 3 round 1: Edale
Things got off to a fairly good start on familiar terrain. As usual I picked a route which started on the Pennine Way, but followed it up with some proper navigation (compass bearings, aiming off etc.). Despite the clag being down I found the controls OK, and extended my initial route to take in a couple more. My one mistake was heading back up onto the Kinder Scout plateau (to avoid traversing a bog), but not even thinking about adding a quick out and back to an extra control which I had enough time for.

These events have tough late penalties (50 points deducted for each minute late), which reinforce my natural aversion to being late. Overall I finished mid-field (and 3rd LV40 out of 8), but the bottom end of the table was propped up by a significant number people who lost most, or all of, their points and a handful who somehow didn’t manage to bag a single control. (I tried to convince the OH that he should enter one, on the grounds that he could have a gentle stroll out to one of the nearby, easy to find controls, and not finish last.)

Peak Raid 3 round 2: Old Glossop
Thinking I’d got to grips with proper orienteering events, I reverted to form, picking an overly conservative route which avoided the high scoring controls in the bogs and stuck to the part of the moor which I knew. I got ‘overly clever’ with my navigation to the first control and had to back-track. But otherwise my navigation was OK, the problem was my route choice. With an hour to go I only had one more control and a mile and a bit left of my planned route. I spotted an alternative, longer and slightly higher scoring, route back and started off on it. But I (justifiably I think) got worried about finding the controls and decided to play it safe and head back as originally planned.

Even with the time-wasting detour I was back with nearly 30 minutes to spare, and towards the bottom of the leader board. Looking at the map afterwards I’d have been better off reversing my route, the extra 2 controls would have been easier to find in the opposite direction. But the main problem was not being brave enough to go for the hard to find high-value controls.

Peak Raid 3 round 3: Grindleford
After the Old Glossop debacle my plan was to be more brave, and in particular to spend a couple of more minutes planing an extendable route taking in a couple of high-value controls before starting running. The first 2.5 hours went pretty well. After an hour I’d bagged a 50 point and a 60 point (both of which were fairly straight-forward to find) plus a couple of other controls. With time to burn I planned a much more ambitious route back, traversing the moor across featureless terrain to take in a tricky 70 pointer. I went a bit astray, but managed to relocate myself and (partly thanks to spotting other runners) found it.

At this point I had far more points then ever before, and an hour to get back along a route with 1 control on it and 2 potential deviations. Feeling bold I went for the 1st deviation. The control was down a gully which made it easy to find, but slow. Getting back on time was going to be a bit tight, so I decided to give the 2nd deviation (closer to the path, but potentially harder to find) a miss. Running along a familiar path I was thinking that, due to the lack of training, I was a bit more tired than I’d usually be after 2.5 hours of running but at least the annoying longstanding hip-leg-ITB niggle was finally gone and hopefully I was going to make it back on time.

And then I kicked a rock and went flying. I nearly managed to ‘save-it’ and stay upright, but failed and crashed flat out. I thought I’d not done any major damage until I put my hands onto the ground to push myself upright, and spotted that the first 2 sections of the middle finger of my left hand were pointing in the wrong direction. Some random walkers passed and (in shock I guess) I waved my hand at them, announced I’d dislocated my finger and wondered whether or not I should try and put it straight myself. Sensibly I decided not. Another runner stopped and offered to help, but I was feeling fine to walk myself into the finish. After a few minutes I decided to phone the organisers to let them know that I was going to be late. The finger wasn’t hurting but it was beginning to sink in that a trip to A&E was going to be necessary, and driving myself probably wasn’t a good idea. So I phoned the other-half and asked him to come and rescue me. I took a longer route back, sticking to paths that I knew to avoid having to navigate.

In the end I was 20 minutes late (and all my points were long since gone) and the organisers were waiting to help me out of my muddy shoes and sit me down with a cup of tea. The OH arrived soon after and took me to Chesterfield A&E who were fantastic and (after plying me with lots of painkillers, local anaesthetic and gas) got the finger back pointing in the right direction.

The next few days (which involved a flying work trip to Madrid) were ‘fun’ with only one fully functioning hand. But remarkably the finger, despite being swollen and out of shape, never really hurt at all. In the words of the orthopaedic consultant I ‘got away with it’ and somehow didn’t do significant damage to the ligaments. I’ll never know whether or not I would have got back on time and keep my massive (by my standards) points haul.

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RAB Mini Mountain Marathon: Saddleworth Moor

Getting to the other end of the Peak District at the end of a busy week always going to be a tall order. Throw in ‘the finger’ and a re-niggling hip (thanks to the OH having to change my car seat set-up when he came to rescue me) and a weekend snoozing on the sofa was more appealing.

Peak Raid 3 round 4: Crowden
I was a bit nervous about getting back running off-road and any controls which involved scrambling would be off-limits to me. However I really wanted to go back to Crowden and improve on last year’s miserable performance. I spent several hours pouring over last year’s map and thinking about potential control locations and route choices. The finger was getting better but still too swollen for gloves, so I bought some Prism mitts especially. I dragged myself out of bed early, got my gear on and headed out the door only to find that the temperature had plummeted overnight and my car doors were frozen solidly shut. I then tried the OH’s car. I managed to get in, but the windscreen de-icer froze on the windscreen and the petrol tank was almost empty. Plus I was getting paranoid about running and driving on the ice, in particular falling and landing on the injured hand again. So I heading back indoors and back to bed, and then spent the day sulking.


So all in all, the Autumn didn’t go to plan. But (apart from the last 30 minutes...) I did enjoy the three events I managed to do. And round 3 showed that if I’m brave with my route choice I can potentially do OK even at short events which require proper navigation. Provided I stay on my feet...